Thai opposition may take power, army's aid hinted
By VIJAY JOSHI,Associated Press Writer AP - 47 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's opposition party vowed Monday to pull the country out of a political crisis as it moved a step closer to forming the next government in a surprising reversal of fortunes that some suggested was aided by the military.
The Democrat Party formally asked the speaker of the lower house of Parliament to convene an emergency session so it can prove it holds a majority _ a mandatory step in forming a government.
"The Democrat Party is ready to govern. We will do our best to gear the country out of its crisis," said party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 44, an Oxford-educated economist.
Months of political chaos in the Southeast Asian nation intensified in August when anti-government activists seized the prime minister's office and later the capital's two airports in a weeklong siege that ended Wednesday.
It is widely believed that the military tacitly backed the protest group, the People's Alliance for Democracy, by refusing to crack down on them.
The Democrat Party voiced support for the alliance, but held back from joining the sometimes-violent street demonstrations.
The alliance accused the government of being a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption. Thaksin, the country's most powerful politician in years, fled in July and now lives in the United Arab Emirates.
The country's No. 2 party until a week ago, the Democrats' newfound strength comes from defections by Thaksin's former allies after the collapse of the ruling coalition last week, when three of its parties were found guilty of electoral fraud.
The Democrat Party now claims the support of 260 lawmakers _ 166 of its members and the rest defectors _ in the lower house, which currently has 438 members.
Local media speculated that the defections were encouraged by the military, which has often played a key role in Thai politics.
"People in uniforms were pressuring political factions to join the Democrat-led government," said Jatuporn Phromphan, a Thaksin ally and lawmaker.
Abhisit, the Democrats' prime ministerial candidate, denied the army was involved in the party's sudden rise. "Everything is done and must be done through the parliamentary process," he said.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd also denied the allegation, saying the army was not involved in politics.
The military has mounted 18 successful coups in the past, the latest in 2006 against Thaksin.
Chris Baker, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said the army and the business community were key to the Democrat Party's rise.
"The business community has been saying very clearly that they would like to have a government headed by the Democrats," he said. "The army wants this crisis over. They want to stop having people racing around on the streets. They also don't want Thaksin back."
Associated Press writers Ambika Ahuja and Mike Casey contributed to this report.
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